The Pirates, once baseball's most feared hitters, have shifted their strength to pitching. Or as third baseman Bill Madlock says, "The Lumber Company is now the Toothpick Factory."
Larry McWilliams, John Candelaria, Rick Rhoden and the newly acquired John Tudor all won at least 13 games last year as starters, and rookies Jose De-Leon and Lee Tunnell were sensational in August and September. The Pirates hope Candelaria will get over the funk that caused him to issue a trade demand when they wouldn't renegotiate his contract. The bullpen will be strong because the team persuaded Kent Tekulve to resign after he shopped around as a free agent. If lefthander Rod Scurry can get the finest curveball in baseball over the plate, the pen will be even better.
The loss of outfielders Mike Easier (traded to Boston for Tudor) and Dave Parker (to Cincinnati via free agency) may hurt the offense, but together they accounted for only 22 home runs. "They say pitching is 90 percent of the game," says shortstop Dale Berra. "Well, I think that our offense can take care of the other 10 percent, and that's 100 percent, right?" Right.
Speaking of right, in rightfield, which was inhabited by Roberto Clemente and Parker for most of the last 25 years, will be rookie Doug Frobel, a lanky Ottawa native who hit .304 with 24 homers, 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases at Hawaii last season. Asked to give a scouting report on himself, Frobel said, "I'm a free-swinger, like a Latin ballplayer, and I can steal a base, and I can throw. But Clemente and Parker are a tough act to follow." Manager Chuck Tanner plans to baby Frobel in the early going, playing him only against righthanders.
Marvell Wynne covers as much ground as any centerfielder, so if he can hit even a modest .250, he'll keep his job. Leftfield will probably be handed to Amos Otis, who was unceremoniously dumped by the Royals. Of the infield, Madlock says, "We have the best offense in the league," taking in himself, Berra, second baseman Johnny Ray and first baseman Jason Thompson. However, they are far from the best on defense. Catcher Tony Pena, on the other hand, is one of the best.
Without Parker, the Pirate locker room is more subdued. "Things have calmed down," says Scurry. "I'm not sure I like that. It's sort of like going home and nobody's there, it's so quiet." In the old days, Parker would slam his bat down on the picnic table in the clubhouse, but when in-fielder Jim Morrison tried to do that the other day, his teammates asked him to keep it down. Nevertheless, expect the Pirates to make considerable noise in the division race this year.
The Bucs had the winningest lefties in the league: John Candelaria and Larry McWilliams, who were both 15-8. They also had the league's top hitter: Bill Madlock, whose .323 gave him his fourth batting title. Trouble was, they had no power: Jason Thompson's 18 homers were the second fewest by a Pirate leader in 20 years.